Splash Mountain Versus Splash Mountain
by, 03-02-2011 at 08:02 PM
There are a lot of cross-continent Disney park goers out there (and even more wannabes) and there is nothing more fun then a little debate. So, time to ask and answer an age-old question; for rides that exist at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, which version is better? You bought the ticket. Time to go for the ride.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton
Splash Mountain versus Splash Mountain
Disneyland is home to the original Splash Mountain. It opened in 1989. It was one of the most expensive attractions ever developed by Walt Disney Imagineering.
The initial inspiration was the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, which opened in 1969. That breakthrough attraction was designed and built by the legendary Bud Hurlbut.
Bud Hurlbut inspecting the scenery in his classic Calico Mine Ride attraction at Knott's Berry Farm.
The idea for a log flume ride for Knott’s Berry Farm came to him around 1962 and he said, “Originally, I was going to build a roller coaster, but in a trough so the vehicles would look like they were floating.” So he worked with Arrow Development on the ride mechanism. Walter Knott was not so sure so he hesitated. So Hurlbut sold the system to Six Flags Over Texas and opened the first log flume ride in 1963.
When Knott saw how successful the attraction was, he ordered one for his park. At the grand opening of the Knott’s attraction, John Wayne was invited to be the first rider. There is a famous photo in the book Knott’s Preserved of a very young Imagineer Tony Baxter looking over the fence at that event.
Disneyland’s management saw a winner and they decided they wanted one too. Tony Baxter, Bruce Gordon, and other Imagineers given the challenge to create an exciting thrill ride using the now familiar amusement park log transportation technology but give it that Disney touch.
The design team decided to base the attraction on Song of the South, a movie that has barely seen the light of day in the United States since it was released in 1946. A segment from the historic and controversial film was part of the very first episode of Disneyland, broadcast on October 27, 1954. That clip suggests parallels to the attraction's story (look for the Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland USA DVD).
One of the reasons I enjoy the Disneyland version is something that is very personal. When I was growing up, America Sings was one of my favorite attractions. I just loved that romp through the history of American music performed by dozens of Audio-Animatronics animals.
America Sings was a fun, but odd, Marc Davis musical production that replaced the Carrousel of Progress when it was moved to Florida. Hey, the lead character was named Sam the Eagle, right?
Over time, America Sings was starting to struggle with attendance and was soon to be closed. There were going to be a lot of very sophisticated characters about to be retired and Tony Baxter and his team jumped all over this. Tony and Bruce were working on Splash Mountain and needed a bunch of Audio-animatronics figures for their new attraction. They figured a way to save a bunch of money was to recycle the America Sings characters. Disney legend, Marc Davis, was an animator on Song of the South and the Imagineer behind America Sings. In their mind, the link was Davis, and it ultimately worked.
They noticed that a lot of the characters in the movie resembled the ones from the attraction. The Imagineers painstakingly matched the characters from the film to characters they needed for the attraction. By the time they were done, they had a few characters that did not fit. So the team came up with the brilliant idea to place all of the leftovers in the paddle wheeler at the grand finale.
All of the America Sings characters (with the exception of Sam the Eagle) have found a happy home within Chickapin Hill. When I am riding in that log through Splash Mountain, I get a chance to revisit some of my old friends who were kicked out of the Tomorrowland attraction.
In a famous story, Michael Eisner was touring the studios at Imagineering in Glendale. He had just joined the company and he wanted to see what was being developed. Tucked away in one of the corners was the model for Splash Mountain. It was discovered by one of Eisner’s teenage sons. His kid got really excited by the concept and that was all Eisner needed to green light the project.
For those who believe that Splash Mountain was named for the climatic drop at the end, you would be mistaken. Welcome to another example of that famous Disney synergy. The attraction was originally going to be called "Zip-a-Dee River Run.” Like the best Disney attractions, the soundtrack is as memorable as any else and this theme had a built in hit song. Michael Eisner had an idea. He knew that the movie Splash was about to be released and he figured it was a water based ride so maybe the Imagineers could integrate Madison, the mermaid played by Daryl Hannah. Eisner also suggested renaming the attraction after the movie. The Imagineers thankfully ignored him with regards to the mermaid but the name stuck.
The ride logs were modified a few years ago. The original seating configuration was a bench down the middle that guests would straddle. Along with the Matterhorn, this became a favorite attraction for couples that want to snuggle together. Each log could fit seven if filled. Nevertheless, lawyers must be lawyers, they suggested that backs be added to the seats.
For visitors with no patience, I recommend the single rider line. Introduce yourself to the Cast Member who is manning the Fastpass entrance, ask nicely, and maybe they will hand you a slip of paper that allows you to enter through the exit.
If you want to get wet then you must sit in the front. However, there are no really safe seats. During the summer they flip on jets at the bottom of the drop that are sure to splash you. Beware that after the first lift hill there is a splash from another falling log that can really douse you with nowhere to hide.
By the way, that snoring you hear just before the first drop. That is Rufus and he has been sleeping there since the area was called Bear Country. Man, what a hibernation!
I highly recommend riding at night. It is a better experience.
THE MAGIC KINGDOM:
Splash Mountain was such a big hit at Disneyland that the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World had to have one. The WDW version opened in 1992. With Florida’s African hot weather, the attraction became an instant classic and still sports some of the longest wait times for much of the year. Traffic was so congested in this area that the park added the boardwalk below the splash zone in 1999.
The Imagineers learned a lot of lessons from Disneyland and they applied this knowledge to the WDW version. The queue seems to go on forever. The queue includes Brer Frog providing a bit of the back-story while you wait. The story line makes more sense and is easier to understand than the original Disneyland version. Scene by scene, throughout the attraction, the narrative is more linear. Of course, in true Disney style, you exit directly into a shop.
To increase ride capacity, the logs were configured to seat eight in four rows sitting side-by-side. There were also new special effects such as Brer Rabbit hopping away. All of the characters have been duplicated for Florida but the ride experience is richer and more rewarding.
The attraction is the fastest ride in the park with the logs racing down the 52.5-foot drop at 40 miles per hour.
For the Uber Disney geeks out there, I agree that the placement of Splash Mountain at that particular spot in Frontierland breaks up the carefully designed story that the Imagineers originally planned. For those in the know, the Liberty Square and Frontierland building facades take you on a trip through space and time. As you walk westward, the facades represent a different part of the United States in progressively later time periods.
When the park opened in 1971, the area that contains Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was being reserved for a blockbuster attraction for phase two of the Magic Kingdom. Within the huge show building at the end of the corridor would be the Western River Expedition.
For those not familiar with the proposed attraction, it sure would have been a doozy. The Western River Expedition project was started back in 1968. Marc Davis, the brilliant Imagineer who designed the funny characters in Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and America Sings, wanted to out do himself. The Imagineers felt the real New Orleans and the Caribbean was not far from Florida and would not prove to be exotic enough of a setting for a major E Ticket attraction. So Marc came up with a Western themed version of Pirates but on a much grander scale.
Like Pirates, guest would sit in boats floating by highly detailed, comic scenes. Some of the proposed scenes included masked bank robbers riding horses wearing masks, dance hall girls, and Native Americans doing a rain dance but they are the only ones getting wet. The scenes would be tied together with a catchy song.
The show would be housed in a huge show building that would be dressed like a mesa. To give you an idea of how big this thing was going to be, imagine Splash Mountain, the Frontierland train station, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad under one roof. It would have been so big they were going to cover part of it with runaway mine train (designed by Tony Baxter). Really big.
The project was pretty far along before things changed. The Western River Expedition attraction was even featured in early maps and guidebooks. In fact, some of the fabrication of the characters had already taken place. That is where the Buffalos and some of the other animals in Epcot’s Land Pavilion came from.
WINNER: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World wins because of the stronger narrative, the queue, and the additional Audio-Animatronics such as the hopping Br’er Rabbit (when he is actually hopping). . . But that's just the view from SAMLAND, what do you think?Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. For the past couple of years he has been the publisher of Samland’s Disney Adventure, a blog dedicated to the history and design of the North American Disney theme parks. Sam is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County.
Sam recently contributed to a new book:
In October 2011, the Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 40th Anniversary. To commemorate this anniversary, Ayefour Publishing will release "Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World".
For this special anniversary, "Four Decades of Magic" brings together over 20 of the world's leading Disney experts in a compilation of essays exploring many of the most magical moments from Disney World's first forty years.
Whether you are a long-time visitor to Disney World or a first time guest, "Four Decades of Magic" presents an exciting glimpse into the unique moments, attractions, and people that, over the last four decades, have made Disney World the planet's leading theme park resort destination. I have contributed a chapter entitled Walt Disney's EPCOT and the Heart of Our Cities.
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As the Walt Disney World Resort nears this magical milestone, no other book brings together a more complete account of this significant achievement, as does "Four Decades of Magic" .